This week, the New York Cork Report spoke with Dan Mitchell, Keuka Lake native and Regional Sales Manager at Fox Run Vineyards as part of our “5 Questions with…” feature series.
What was the first bottle of wine you remember drinking — and where did you have it and who were you with?
My father has had his winemaking equipment longer than he has had me, and every once in a while he would make a really great wine. I would go with him every harvest to Fall Bright on Keuka Lake and fill up his glass carboys with juice, mostly hybrid varieties. It’s a really great memory from my youth. He was just happy to have a fun hobby that saved him some money and provided wines for dinner at home. We always had wine with dinner growing up and by the time I was in my teens I could have a small glass as well. This really helped instill the philosophy that wine is food, and that great wines came right out of our back yard. He was the original supporter of Finger Lakes wines for me and certainly molded why I do what I do today, spreading the Finger Lakes love.
When did you know that you wanted to be in the wine industry?
I am a Finger Lakes native, born and raised on Keuka Lake, so wine is my home industry. I mis-spent my 20s traveling around North America working a variety of hospitality management jobs. It’s fun and easy to take a job across the country when everything you own fits in your vehicle and in all I have driven coast-to-coast six times. I can still remember specific small towns, sunsets, and the people I have met on those travels and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
In 2001, I decided to come home to be back on the lake and closer to family. I was very fortunate to be put in touch with Scott Osborn of Fox Run Vineyards by a common friend. Right from my first harvest season in 2004, I was attracted by the family atmosphere that the Finger Lakes wine community has. Harvest dinners with other wineries, winemakers collaborating and sharing information, and promotions done hand in hand with other wineries demonstrate that there is a philosophy here that the region as a whole, and the promotion of it, is greater than any of it’s individual components. This is a philosophy that I am proud to take out on the road with me when I introduce new regions to Finger Lakes wines. The fact that it is my home makes it that much easier.
What do you wish were different about the New York wine community and industry?
I think the Finger Lakes wine industry is in a very healthy stage at the moment. We are getting more and more exposure in further reaching markets and in national publications, the number of winemakers here who have gained experience in a wide variety of world-class wine producing regions is increasing and with the help of organizations like Cornell we are bringing in healthier fruit on a more consistent basis. It’s a very exciting time. Established wineries in other regions are starting to take an interest in investing in the Finger Lakes so the industry has noticed. Publications have also noticed and the somms and buyers in large wine markets have noticed.
Why is the local Upstate New York consumer still not on board as widely as they should be? The fact that it is easier for me to sell Finger Lakes wines in NYC, Boston, Virginia, and Western Canada than it is in our thruway cities is a disturbing mystery to me. No buyer in those larger markets questions that Finger Lakes wines are a tremendous quality for the price but here at home they still do, remembering only the days of sweet jug wines and early, poorly made reds. Familiarity breeds contempt I suppose. I don’t have to fight that stereotype further from home.
When you’re not drinking your own wines, what are you drinking?
I like to split my time pretty evenly between beer and wine. Beer makes me think, wine makes me feel. Beer on it’s own, wine with food. Unfortunately I have developed quite a palate for craft beers that come at a premium cost and I have no problem paying. IPAs and Belgians are my current, and long-running, favorites. The wine lover in me envies that beer producers fight none of the customer perception that great beers can’t come from my back yard as they have with wine. They are not nearly as much at the mercy of Mother Nature and they can generate many batches in a calendar year as opposed to one. Additionally, doing something outrageous with beer flavors is often rewarded and they are less often concerned about holding it to a classic standard. Either way there are lots of great discoveries to be made with both, and I will continue to search.
If you could only pick one grape/wine/producer to live out your days with on a deserted island, what would it be?
I’m going to take the easy way out here and pick riesling as long as my stash contains it’s entire breadth of styles. I have often said if a customer tells you they don’t like riesling, they haven’t tried enough. There is far too much diversity of style, flavors, and sweetness levels to be pigeonholed like that. If I had a dollar for every time I have had this conversation; “Would you like to try the Dry Riesling?” “No thanks, I don’t like sweet wines” I could buy my own island to live out my days.